Empower Your Employees and Gain Increased Productivity, Morale

April 19, 2011
Workers who feel empowered by their employers are more productive and have higher morale, regardless of their industry, a new study suggests.

“Empowerment is an effective approach for improving employee attitudes and work behaviors in a broad range of industries, occupations and geographic regions,” said lead researcher Scott Seibert, professor of management and organizations in University of Iowa’s Tippie College of Business.

According to Seibert, the study results indicate that properly implemented empowerment initiatives can lead to higher job satisfaction, lower turnover and reduced stress among workers. Empowered employees also are more innovative and perform better at their jobs.

Seibert and coauthors examined more than 140 previous studies on psychological empowerment in the workplace published since 1995 that involved thousands of workers. They found that the studies sometimes tend to exaggerate the value – or lack thereof – of empowerment. Some claim it will revitalize an organization with “lightning-like” speed, while others dismissed it as a “chimera” and point to high failure rates at organizations that tried it.

Even so, Seibert said the previous studies identify certain organizational characteristics and leader behaviors, as well as employee traits, that can to lead to successful empowerment initiatives.

An effective empowerment initiative should have include:

· High performance practices: Managers share information, decentralize authority, involve workers in decision-making, provide training opportunities and pay well. Seibert said high performance management makes workers feel a strong part of their organization and that they matter to the company’s success.
· Socio-political support: Managers make their employees feel like a valued part of the organization and encourage employees to recognize each other’s importance.
· Leadership: A manager who inspires, provides strong feedback and is a good role model enhances workers’ feelings of competence and helps employees find meaning in their work.
· Work design characteristics: Managers encourage training and provide individual workers with challenging work assignments.

“Managers in these studies reported that empowered workers were more innovative and more willing to take the initiative to solve problems on their own,” Seibert said. “Employees said they were more engaged in their work when empowered, that they felt like they had an influence and an impact on the business around them.”

These work improvements apply to improved team performance as well as individual performance, and that they tended to be strongest in the service sector, Seibert added.

The study also revealed the following information about work force empowerment:

· Men and women generally have similar reactions to empowerment.
· While empowerment has an impact across national borders and different cultures, its impact seems to be greater in Asia than in North America, perhaps because empowerment is more effective in collectivist cultures or that work arrangements in Asian businesses are more conducive to empowerment initiatives.
· Employees who have positive self-evaluation characteristics are more likely to feel empowered, and people who feel more empowered to begin with will react more strongly to empowerment initiatives.

The study will be published in the Journal of Applied Psychology.

About the Author

Laura Walter

Laura Walter was formerly senior editor of EHS Today. She is a subject matter expert in EHS compliance and government issues and has covered a variety of topics relating to occupational safety and health. Her writing has earned awards from the American Society of Business Publication Editors (ASBPE), the Trade Association Business Publications International (TABPI) and APEX Awards for Publication Excellence. Her debut novel, Body of Stars (Dutton) was published in 2021.

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